First Look: The Abbot's Cellar in San Francisco
The Monk's Kettle is a destination for serious craft beer in San Francisco's Mission district, and they serve some mighty tasty food alongside their stouts, sours, dubbels, and IPAs. When our beer writer Mike Reis, a certified Cicerone who co-directs the beer program at Monk's with cellar master/owner Christian Albertson, wrote to me to apply for a columnist position, it was a no-brainer for me to add him to the SE Drinks team; those Monk's Kettle guys are serious about craft beer.
They're aiming to prove that they're just as serious about food—and about beer's place in the world of fine dining—with their latest venture on Valencia Street, The Abbot's Cellar.
Chef Adam Dulye, who first fell in love with craft beer during a stint cooking in Colorado, says, "Monk's is like a craft tavern, and Abbot's is more refined and focused. Craft beer is growing so fast, and catching on in such a different way with food now. It's nice to be able to see craft beer used like this in a place that's not a gastropub."
The menu highlights game and game birds; there's usually quail or pheasant, and bison is often featured. "Part of it was just wanting to use a lot of meats that taste amazing and are fun to cook," Chef Dulye told us. "Pheasant has so much flavor—bison's the same way—and you don't see them on a lot of menus in San Francisco, even though it's available locally and it's sustainable." But not everything's meaty: "Sometimes you don't want a hunk of protein on your plate," says Dulye, so there's always going to be at least one vegetarian appetizer and entree available.
In addition to a la carte options, they're offering a 3-course tasting menu for $45 ($60 with beer pairings for every course), and a 5-course option for $65 ($90 with beer pairings.) While the full participation of the table is required for the 5-course meal, individuals can opt for the 3-course version whether or not their dining companions choose to.
And the beer list you'll find built into your dining table? It's no slouch. At our visit, they were pouring 2007 Cantillon Iris on tap, and Lost Abbey's 2009 Cuvee de Tomme by the glass (poured from the bottle), along with a few things I'd never even heard of. They have 150 to 200 beers in house (and capacity for 400 cases or so in their two-story beer cellar), but they won't be serving flights—the idea is to really integrate the beer offerings with the food, focusing on pairings that really elevate both the dish and the beer.
For the pairings, Reis (who's co-directing the beer program at Abbot's as well as Monk's...plus getting his Serious Eats columns in more or less on time!) says the team is thinking beyond the basic ingredients and considering the preparation method—roasty character in a beer can be accented by grilled foods, he says, while caramelization in the restaurant's superhot stone oven or at the saute station can make for a nice match with particularly malty brews. Herbs can latch onto a beer's herbal hop or yeasty fruit flavors, and salt can intensify a dish's flavors to help it pair with a more aggressive beer.
For a pheasant dish that's crisped in the stone oven, for example, Reis suggets a Hot Rocks lager from Port Brewing Company. "They put hot granite in the kettle while making this beer, which gives it a really interesting caramelized flavor, and that's unbelievable with the caramelization that the pheasant gets in the stone oven. Plus, the earthy hop character in the beer is very nice with the vegetables on the plate," notes Reis.